In essence the Cubists were not only concerned with the development of new artistic techniques, but their experimentation was also concerned with the search for a new and more dynamic perception of reality. As one commentator notes; "The Cubists sought to create spatial abstractions" (the AESTHETIC).
As has been stated, Cubism depicts a new reality which was also in essence a form of protest against conventional ideas of both art and reality. In this sense Cubism was also extremely important for the development of art in that sense it started a process in art that led to other forms of experimentation. For example, the Dada and Surrealist movement were largely a result of the Cubist experimentation in painting and sculpture. (Art Periods: CUBISM). Cubist art was to develop from its early stages of experimentation in the first decade of the 1900s to "...the more complex and systematic style of 1910-12, known as analytic cubism..." (the AESTHETIC). What is important to remember is that this form of art and sculpture went much further than just a new style of art and in fact Cubism began as a revolt against the traditions and artistic norms of previous centuries.
Picasso's sculptures and his experiments in Cubism can be traced back to his early (1907) interest in African art and especially African masks. "Picasso created several wood carvings in 1907 that owe a direct debt to African masks and reflect the Cubist style of Les Demoiselles D'Avignon"(European 20th-CenturySculpture). He was to sculpt a number of bronze heads in the Cubist style and they would become progressively more distorted and angular, as can be seen in the 1909 example above (Figure 1). He was to follow these with various sculptural constructions, such as the sheet-metal and wire Guitar (1912,) and the wooden Wineglass and Die (1914).
Figure 2. Pablo Picasso. Guitar. 1914. Sheet metal and wire,
It is therefore not surprising that sculpture in the Twentieth Century owes a great degree of its vitality to the original expression of Cubism as epitomized by Picasso and others who pioneered this style in the early years of the previous century. They succeeded in releasing sculpture from its reliance on traditional forms of expression and took the artistic medium to new heights of experimentation and growth.
The way is which the different areas or planes of the artwork are fragmented in Cubism for example can also be seen in the work of Braque.
Braque began to work with Picasso in 1909 and these two artists experimented with various forms, shapes and styles. This experimentation was eventually to produce the first works of Analytic Cubism. During this period both Braque and Picasso worked with "...neutralized color and complex patterns of faceted form" (Duerden, 2000). Braque also began extend the boundaries of art by using collage elements in his paintings - incorporating newspapers, and fabric into his works.
In establishing the principle that a work of art should be autonomous and not merely imitate nature, Cubism redefined art in the twentieth century. Braque's large compositions incorporated the Cubist aim of representing the world as seen from a number of different viewpoints. He wanted to convey a feeling of being able to move around within the painting. The still life subject remained his chief preoccupation from 1927 to 1955.
The Archive: Braque)
One very important aspect of Cubist sculpture that should be emphasized again was the insistence in their work of seeing reality from many different points-of-view or perspectives. This can be seen as part of rebellion against the conventional and formal rules of art. It is also an indication of the deep need that the artists of the time felt to find new ways of expressing the world around them. As a study by Rosenblum (1961) states,
In place of earlier perspective systems that determined the precise location of discrete objects in illusory depth, Cubism offered an unstable structure of dismembered planes in indeterminate spatial positions. Instead of assuming that the work of art was an illusion of a reality that lay beyond it, Cubism proposed that the work of art was itself a reality that represented the very process by which nature is transformed into art. (Rosemblum, 1961, p.9)
This is an important view as it implies that Cubist sculpture and painting was involved not only with a search for new and exciting styles of art but also with new expressions of reality that had little to do with and were not bound by the conventional objective world.
A dense, opaque shape could suddenly become a weightless transparency; a sharp, firm outline could abruptly dissolve into a vibrant texture; a plane that defined the remoteness of the background could be perceived simultaneously in the immediate foreground. Even the identity of objects was not exempt from these visual contradictions. (Rosemblum, 1961, p.9)
There are many other Cubist artists that can be mentioned. The origins of Cubism are most commonly accredited to Picasso but some critics suggest that the origins of Cubist sculpture can be attributed to the works of Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
Raymond Duchamp-Villon. Horse,. 1914
The famous art critic Herbert Read said of Duchamp-Villon that he was "...undoubtedly the first to work out the implications of a Cubist sculpture and to see immediately that it implied an identity or at least confusion with the principles of architecture" (Read 1968, p. 98). Read also stated that Cubist sculpture can be associated with the names of Brancusi, Duchamp-Villon, and Gonzalez. Archipenko, Lipchitz, and Henri Laurens" (Read, 1968). Cubist techniques and style can, for instance, be seen in the works of Lipchitz
Figure 5. Jacques Lipchitz, Personnages assis jouant de la clarinette, 1920.
The sense of movement that is suggested in a static object and often seen in Cubist sculpture can also be observed in the works of another Cubist, Alexander Archipenko. Archipenko's work succeeds in creating a sense of movement within space. However, Archipenko is not often acknowledged for his role in the development of Cubist sculpture. As Read states: "Archipenko...who came from Moscow to Paris in 1908, first made contact with the Cubist group in 1910, and was much the most inventive of the pioneers of modern sculpture, a fact which is not often acknowledged "(Read 1968, p.100).
Figure 6. Alexander Archipenko: Green concave, 1913.
Cubism was to lead to the famous works by Marcel Duchamp. This was also to begin the anti-art movement; which was a rebellion against the norms and conventions of the time. Dada was another important movement that owes its origins to the Cubist innovations. Dada as a movement and attitude towards art was centered on the total and radical rejection of all art traditions, assumptions and views. A definition of Dada is; "A movement in European art (with manifestations also in New York)...characterized by a spirit of anarchic revolt against traditional values" (Chilvers 154).
Duchamp made his first major impression on the art world with a work which has become strongly associated with Cubism. This work entitled Nude descending a Staircase caused a sensation at the 1913 Armory show in New York.
Rosenblum summarizes the essence of Cubism as follows: Cubism was a philosophy and style of art that also questioned all established values of art. It also 'created an artistic language of intentional ambiguity' " (Rosenblum, 1961, p. 9) Therefore, what this means is that not only did the Cubist sculptures and paintings challenge the artistic status quo but, even more importantly, they succeeded in creating a unique artistic style and ' language '. This style was suited to the interpretation of modern reality and the feeling that modern life was not simple and neat but complex and ambiguous.
The Cubist movement as a form of artistic protest against the conventions of art also opened the way to other areas of artistic experimentation and creativity. In sculpture this led to many innovative works of art that explored the possibilities of alternative perceptions of space and depth and enriched the ways in which sculpture could be created and appreciated.
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Duerden, D. (2000) the "Discovery" of the African Mask. Research in African
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